With more than 1,500 castles dotted across the UK (according to estimates), you’ll never run short of historic sites to explore – but at the best UK castles with kids, you’ll find something to ensure a really memorable family day out.
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I’ve been visiting the country’s castles (and ruins, forts and stately houses) since I was a child… including one memorable trip to castle-filled north Wales, where we probably managed to fit in one per day.
My daughter is just as fascinated by their history too, always ready to pretend to be a knight, Queen or dragon, firing imaginary cannon, shooting imaginary arrows and embracing medieval life.
With so much choice, I’ve tried to narrow down my top picks to focus on the main castle-building period from the Normans to the Tudors, skipping Roman forts and fortified manor houses (much as I love Scotney Castle, it’s more historic house than stone fortress) and avoiding anything too ruined… unless there’s a good reason, with one or two still making it into my list of the UK’s best castles with kids.
The 10 best castles in the UK with kids
Warwick Castle, Warwickshire
One of the UK’s most popular castles, you can easily spend longer than a day out here discovering 1,000 years of history – we’ve visited time and again over the years, as well as staying overnight in the Knight’s Village lodges.
You’ll find princesses telling stories, a Horrible Histories maze, birds of prey show, a giant trebuchet, several chances to be transported back in time, including to the most famous Earl of Warwick, the Kingmaker.
Plus there are displays of armour, rooms decorated as they would have been in both the 20th century as well as in Tudor times, plus the walls to walk around and 64 acres of grounds.
Hever Castle, Kent
If you’re exploring the South-East, Kent is one of the top places to discover some of the UK’s best castles including the wonderful Hever Castle.
Childhood home of Anne Boleyn, there’s a trail for kids to follow through the castle itself, with pieces from Tudor times on display, including part of Anne’s own bed.
Outside, the grounds include a maze, a water maze, a lake, gardens and medieval tents with storytellers, knights and food, the chance to try archery and other activities, as well as jousting to watch.
But the best part? Seeing the characters which bring your visit to life, including Henry VIII.
For my full review of a day out at Hever Castle, Kent, click here
Alnwick Castle, Northumberland
For Harry Potter fans, there’s no castle better – well, except Hogwarts and it’s a bit trickier to visit that! With parts of the movies filmed here, you can also try broomstick lessons in the grounds (on the very spot where Harry tried flying for the first time).
There are also regular character days at Alnwick Castle and other magical activities, such as making wands.
But there’s more to the 14th century castle than its wizarding links, including quests for kids to try, the chance to walk the ramparts and the spectacular state rooms.
To keep the magical theme going, you can even stay in a Harry Potter-themed room at Hallow & Crux in Alnwick, with great names like the Dumbledorm family room, a broomstick’s throw from Alnwick Castle
Tower of London
The royal fortress is one of my favourite places to visit in London with kids – so much history crammed in behind the walls of the Tower of London, not to mention the Crown Jewels and famous ravens.
During school holidays, there are often extra family activities, with actors bringing tales from the Tower’s history to life – everything from the theft of the crown jewels to escaping prisoners.
There’s a great app for kids to follow as you explore, as well as tours by the Beefeaters, an exhibition on the animals which once lived within the walls, armour, weapons and plenty on the royal inhabitants.
Windsor Castle, Berkshire
It’s easy to think that castles belong in history, so the chance to visit a ‘working’ castle, still one of the residences of the royal family, really sets Windsor Castle apart from the rest.
The oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, you can see everything from a spectacular royal doll’s house to Henry VIII’s plus-size armour, as well as an opportunity to see the changing of the guard outside central London (when it’s taking place).
Between the royal treasures and tales galore of kings and queens who’ve spent part of their lives at Windsor, kids can also dress up and there’s a children’s audioguide.
Some rooms are closed for part of the year, and only those over 1.3m tall can climb the round tower.
Discover more of the best things to do in Windsor with kids – and check out the Treasure Map Trails of Windsor and Eton for a fun way to explore beyond Windsor castle with kids – get 10% off using code MUMMYTRAVELS
Nottingham Castle, Nottingham
Talking of Nottingham Castle immediately makes me think of Robin Hood, the evil sheriff and bad King John – the castle itself is not only still standing, it’s had a huge £29 million investment to help visitors discover all about its 10 centuries of history.
EDIT: Sadly, as of November 2022, the castle is closed to visitors again and its future currently tbc…
There’s Robin Hood, of course, including a statue you can pose with, plus tales of Richard the Lionheart, but also stories of the Civil War and rebellion told in a new visitor centre and interactive Robin Hood Gallery – fire digital longbows and outwit the Sheriff, or spar with Little John in a virtual Sherwood Forest.
More of a surprise is the fact there’s a sprawling cave system below the castle, with 25-minute tours suitable for kids taking you through the maze of caverns, with some areas newly opened, as well as a longer tour for older children and adults to learn about the role the underground passages played in capturing Queen Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer after they deposed Edward II.
Outdoors, there are several family trails through the grounds, themed around nature and ‘the hero in the green hat’, plus an adventure playground and other activities for kids.
Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey
On the island of Anglesey, Beaumaris Castle is one of my own favourites among the castles of North Wales (and there’s plenty of competition).
The last fortress designed for Edward I, after Conwy, Caernarfon and Harlech, it looks out to the Menai Strait, with four concentric defensive rings and its own moat on the dock, it’s almost perfectly symmetrical. And all the more impressive if you think what was intended.
Because this last great castle was never finished: the six great towers in the inner ward were intended to be higher than they are today, and one gate was barely started before work stopped.
The Castle Quest trail helps bring the existing castle and its even grander plans to life and there are regular family activities, including living history events. Or simply wander the castle, counting the arrow loopholes on the outer walls from the original 300, as well as finding murder holes or imagining yourself defending this beautiful fortress.
For more of the best Unesco World Heritage sites in the UK with kids, check out this post
Caerphilly Castle, Caerphilly
Discover the leaning tower of Wales – even wonkier than the one in Pisa – at this mighty medieval castle, the result of a Civil War attack.
Built to defend against the last Prince of an independent Wales, Caerphilly Castle is the biggest castle in the country. Only Windsor Castle is bigger in the whole of Britain.
Which means you have a whopping 30 acres to explore, from the massive walls and towers to the water defences of this 13th century fortress, which was later transformed into a palatial home – although you can still see replica siege engines including a mangonel and trebuchet to remind you of its fearsome past.
And that’s not all you’ll find to capture kids’ imaginations. Home to the Dragons’ Lair, where an audio-visual display with smoke and snarls bring this family of Welsh dragons to life, as well as games including Castle Quest on the Cadw app.
Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh
There has been a royal fortress in Edinburgh since the 11th century, and towering on its rock above the city, the castle is still one of the first things you see – and hear, as the one o’clock gun fires almost every day.
Inside, you can see the Honours of Scotland – as the Crown Jewels are known – alongside the Stone of Destiny. Outside the Crown room, there’s the huge Mons Meg cannon, the giant Great Hall and the Royal castle to explore for starters.
You’ll find suggested routes on the castle’s website with various different highlights, as well as suggestions depending how long you’ve got to explore so you can stroll at your own pace.
And if you visit in August, you’ll get the memorable spectacule of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo as well, with various regiments parading to the accompaniment of pipes and drums.
Stirling Castle, Stirling
Forget grim fortresses, Stirling Castle was built in the style of a French Renaissance palace to make James V’s French queen feel at home – kids even get the chance to meet Marie of Guise, mother to Mary Queen of Scots, alongside the king during visits.
As well as encountering royalty and seeing the lavish Royal Palace, you can head into the Great Kitchens and down into the palace vaults with their interactive exhibitions on music and art, as well as jesters and tailors.
There’s also a family trail in the unicorn garden for kids to follow. Back inside, an exhibition on the castle, telling its history – including the 50-year period when the castle changed hands eight times during the Wars of Independence.
Plus the Great Hall, peaceful Queen Anne Garden, the Chapel Royal and the fascinating Stirling Heads, huge 16th-century oak medallions carved with images of kings, queens, nobles, Roman emperors and characters from the Bible and Classical mythology.
Best of the rest: castles in England with kids
Dover Castle, Kent
Another fabulous Kent fortress packed with history, Dover Castle has a unique mix of ancient history and more modern tales to tell, with tunnels used during the Second World War.
Inside the castle, you’ll find staff dressed up in medieval costume to show kids how to card wool in the kitchens, plus bedchambers decorated as they might have been for royal inhabitants and lots of chances for children to get hands on.
Older kids will enjoy the underground hospital and venturing into the wartime tunnels too, as well as exploring the grounds which have an Iron Age Fort and Roman lighthouse built near the Norman castle.
Read more about a day out at Dover Castle with kids
Leeds Castle, Kent
Not far from Maidstone and the village of Leeds (not the more famous city in Yorkshire), Leeds Castle is easily one of the most beautiful historic sites in Kent – and there’s plenty of competition for that title.
Sat reflected in the lake, with peacocks roaming the grounds, this has always struck me (and my daughter) as the kind of castle to house princesses rather than a fearsome fortress.
Once home to Catherine of Aragon, many of the rooms are decorated in lavish 1920s style, although you’ll also find ones straight from medieval times. Outside, along with those peacocks, there’s an adventure playground and falconry displays plus adventure golf in the grounds.
Check out my review of visiting Leeds Castle with a toddler
Bodiam Castle, East Sussex
If you visualise a castle, the chances are it will look something like Bodiam – turrets, towers and solid stone walls, floating in the middle of a moat.
And inside the walls of the 14th century fortress, you can discover the remains of what was once among the most palatial buildings of its day.
There’s dressing up and actors bringing the castle to life, not to mention quirkily gruesome facts to delight kids, including some of the disgusting jobs children in history would have had to do.
Add in murder holes and family-friendly activities, including archery (and a game of medieval life during our visit) and this National Trust site is among my favourites.
Read more about my visit to Bodiam Castle with kids
Arundel Castle, West Sussex
With a history stretching back over 950 years, you can still venture into the 11th century Keep, as well as climbing to the top for some fantastic views across the West Sussex countryside.
The privately owned castle is now part stately home as well. Inside, the state rooms have been preserved in their opulent splendour as they would have been when the Dukes of Norfolk transformed the medieval fortress in the 18th and 19th centuries.
But it’s the events and activities which really set Arundel Castle apart from the others across the UK.
You can find living history with knights on horseback jousting and battles being replayed in the grounds (admittedly with less realistic results), as well as music and crafts from medieval times plus other family-friendly things to do during holidays.
Carisbrooke Castle, Isle of Wight
Either way you’ve got centuries of history and open spaces for little ones to burn off plenty of energy, as well as walls to climb for some great views.
Entry is currently by timed tickets only.
Corfe Castle, Dorset
With its murder holes, secret places and tales of treachery and treason, not to mention rumour of royal death and its place in the Civil War, it’s perfect to let imaginations run wild. Tickets must be prebooked.
Tintagel Castle, Cornwall
Dramatic and rugged, the 12th century ruins set on a Cornish clifftop come with legends galore, particularly the tale that it’s the birthplace of King Arthur with Merlin’s Cave nearby.
Best with older children who can manage the vertiginous steps, Tintagel Castle is one of the most memorable castle sites in Cornwall – even crossing the bridge is magical, while there’s a sculpture of the Once and Future King on the cliffs.
If you’re worried that ruins aren’t going to capture your kids’ attention, there’s also an exhibition to bring the castle to life, tracing its history, the key figures who’ve been linked with it, and how its legends have inspired them.
One of my top things to do in Cornwall with kids, check out the rest of my top picks here
Pendennis Castle, Cornwall
One of the mightiest fortresses built by Henry VIII to defend against invasion, Pendennis Castle looms on the headland just outside Falmouth.
You can explore the castle keep at the English Heritage site, as well as gazing out at the views from the top of the Tudor keep, trying family activities and exploring the old buildings, including exhibitions from the Victorian and First World War eras.
Plan your visit for the right day and you can even see guns being fired, including Tudor replicas as well as Edwardian and Second World War models which would have been used to protect the coast.
Sudeley Castle, Gloucestershire
Beautiful Sudeley Castle is best known for its links to Queen Katherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII – the one who ‘survived’ in the rhyme. Her home and her final resting place, you can still see her tomb in the 15th century church, although Sudeley’s history goes back around 1,000 years.
It’s not only the Tudors who played a part in the castle’s history: Richard III had links to Sudeley, while Charles I’s nephew used it as a royalist base during the Civil War. There’s an exhibition to introduce you to some of the historic higlights (and lowlights!) with everything from royal love letters to a Roman stone god, plus a book of hours dating from before the Black Death.
Add in regular events and activities – the elephant family in the grounds is the latest attraction – the castle rooms to explore, the gardens, and the collection of pheasants, and it’s a great day out.
As a final bonus for kids, you can believe you’re inhabiting (and defending) your own castle in the adventure playground, with a fort at its heart, towers to look out from, bridges, slides, a climbing wall, and lots of hidey hole. There’s also a zip wire, obstacle course and adventure trail as an added bonus.
Framlingham Castle, Suffolk
Over the centuries, Framlingham castle, has seen its share of history – Mary Tudor was proclaimed Queen here, while the Earls and Dukes of Norfolk have been as likely to end up in the Tower for their nefarious plots as wield power as one of the country’s most powerful aristocrats.
While the castle dates back to the 12th century, the only building which remains is the workhouse, but there’s still plenty to explore: head out along the wall walk, 10.5 metres up, and gaze out across the grounds and lake.
Or try some of the regular family activities, including some fun games and quizzes for kids, not least the chance to race around the slopes leading down to the old moat before gazing back up at Framlingham’s 13 towers.
Bolsover Castle, Derbyshire
This Stuart castle is famous for its horses, its ghosts and its family activities: reputedly one of the UK’s most haunted castles, you can also amble along the newly restored wall walk for the first time in almost 250 years.
But Bolsover Castle has an impressive amount to see with kids: stroll through the Little Castle, built by courtier Sir William Cavendish who entertained King Charles I and his Queen here, where you can spot painted ceilings and ornate decorations within the medieval-style turrets.
Excitingly, as the castle has reproduction furnishings, kids can get properly hands on, rather than observing from behind a rope, as well as being entertained by dressing up and a family multimedia guide.
Most spectacular for families is the indoor Riding School. Cavendish was also riding master to the future Charles II and imported horses from Asia and Africa: today it’s brought to life by riders dressed as Cavaliers performing elegant dressage
Throw in an adventure playground, other events such as sword fighting and jousting, plus plenty of room to run around the gardens, and it’s huge fun.
Auckland Castle, County Durham
Think castles, and you probably think kings, queens, knights, princesses (and possibly dragons) – but some of the most powerful castle builders were men of the church.
And Auckland Castle is the perfect place to discover this. Home to the Prince Bishops of Durham, they could raise their own army, administer their own laws, mint their own coins – effectively be kings within their own area.
And while the Bishops of Durham weren’t the only ones wielding this kind of power, Auckland Castle is one of the best preserved bishops’ palaces in Europe.
There are 13th century echoes of the earlier inhabitants, but the castle you can visit today is Georgian Gothic: a palace rather than a medieval stone fortress, reopened after a major conservation project – plus trails for kids, some dressing up, crafts, a spot of light sword fighing and the deer park to explore
Lancaster Castle, Lancashire
Lancaster Castle dates back almost 1,000 years, but this important fortress has some unusual history to set it apart from the usual round of days out at medieval castles with kids.
There were Roman forts here before the castle was built – and it was later being turned into a prison, for an unusual twist of history that’s great for older kids.
Home to the Dukes of Lancaster, including the sons of kings, it has played host to royalty over the centuries, as well as being famous for the trials of the ‘Lancashire Witches’. You can still see medieval structures in the fortress, including the witches’ tower.
There are special tours aimed at under 12s to bring the castle’s dark history to life, with costumed guided and the chance to join in a mock trial – it’s free to enter the castle, but the only way to explore inside is on an official tour (not suitable for buggies and pushchairs).
Warkworth Castle, Northumberland
If you love exploring castles with kids, Northumberland is one of the best areas to castle-hop to your heart’s content – as well as Alnwick, Warkworth Castle is unmissable.
Home to the powerful Percy family, the Dukes of Northumberland, the cross-shaped keep of the fortress towers above the River Coquet – if you’ve got kids studying Shakespeare, or who are interested in the Wars of the Roses, you can’t beat walking in the footstep of Harry Hotspur, friend and later foe to Henry IV.
Check out our review of a day out at Warkworth Castle with kids
Most smaller visitors are more likely to be fascinated (and disgusted) by the ‘smelly cubes’ in the latrines, church and beer cellar to bring the smells of the ancient castle to life, as well as activity sheets to help them explore.
Led by Percy the lion, the trail guides you to discovery sacks to find objects from everyday life across the centuries. Add in events, including jousting and jesters, plus a ferryman to take you across the river to Warkworth Hermitage, carved into the rocks, and this is an unforgettable day out.
For more things to do in Northumberland with kids, check out this post
Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland
Looking down onto the beach, Bamburgh Castle must have one of the best locations in Northumberland, a county with so many castles, it’s hard to pick out just a few.
Once the capital of the kings of Northumbia, you can trace this castle’s history back to Anglo-Saxon times: since then it has survived Viking raids, the Norman conquest, has played host to kings – and seen the first lifeboat launched under its ramparts.
You can still visit the ancient Keep, with its 11ft thick walls, see weapons galore in the armoury and explore the state rooms, with an audioguide to keep everyone entertained.
There are events throughout the year which are perfect for families too: join the recreation of an Anglo-Saxon camp and test your skills as a warrior or listen to Viking tales. Or just gaze out to sea and the islands on the horizon, while pretending to man (and woman) the cannons on the walls.
Read my review of a day out at Bamburgh Castle with kids
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Cardiff Castle, Cardiff
This castle always stands out for me because it’s one of the few set right in the heart of a city – within a few minutes, you can wander from the shopping streets of Cardiff to the walls of the castle, with carved stone animals draped over the top.
Inside you can walk around the battlements, as well as heading into the keep, while the audio-guide reveals some of the castle’s history – starting as Roman fort (spot the Roman chariot mural near the south-east tower) and later Norman prison, the fabulously wealthy Bute family transformed it into a medieval fantasy home in Victorian times.
Try the children’s treasure trail to explore inside. Don’t miss one of the guided tours too, to get a peek at rooms not open to the public, including a nursery, as well as climbing the Clock Tower.
There’s also a trebuchet, and a chance to step back in history in the tunnels which doubled as wartime shelters.
Read more about my day out at Cardiff Castle
Caernarfon Castle, Gwynedd
Wales is not short of impressive castles to visit with kids, but this fortress built by Edward I is easily the most impressive – the gigantic project took 47 years, with town walls built at the same time as Caernarfon Castle, costing a medieval fortune – £25,000.
As well as the thick curtain walls and intimidating gates, designed to show off the king’s power and defend against assault, Caernarfon has legends built into its very stones. With eagle statues to recall the Roman empire, and a link to Welsh myth of a vision of a fair fort at the mouth of a river, here be dragons too.
In fact there are various fun activities for kids, including the Little Dragons game, Castle Quest to track down beasts linked with the castle and more on the castle legends – plus the chance to learn more about the first English Prince of Wales.
Conwy Castle, Conwy
If you want a castle where you can get a feel for what life would have been like, rather than a ruin, however impressive, then Conwy Castle is ideal.
The medieval fortress might be 700 years old, but the restored spiral staircases mean you can climb the towers and stroll around the complete circle of battlements, looking down onto the narrow streets of Conwy (within its own walls) and out to the mountains of Snowdonia.
You can also see inside the old medieval royal apartments, including the King’s Great Chamber and the chapel, with its special chamber where royalty could observe services privately (it even has its own toilet!).
There are Cadw digital trails on the app again, with the chance to discover the legend of the jackdaw and its links to the town, as well as the Castle Quest and Little Dragons game as you explore the towers.
Criccieth Castle, Gwynedd
Criccieth Castle is the perfect place to discover Welsh history, of the powerful princes who preceded the invasion by Edward I.
Built by Llewellyn the Great, then added to by his grandson, Llewellyn the Last, it was later attacked and burned by Owain Glyndwr, and the Cadw app has a fun Castle Quest to help kids learn more about its tumultuous past, including a chance to sit in the Prince’s throne.
There are also interactive displays in the visitor centre, as well as wonderful views out to Cardigan Bay from its rocky headland between two beaches.
Unlike other Welsh castles, Criccieth is a ruin, so you’ll have to use your imagination to bring it back to life (along with the information boards), but it’s still a spectacular castle to visit with kids.
Raglan Castle, Monmouthshire
With its sturdy towers and moat, this fortress palace is exactly what you picture when you think of a castle, designed to show off the owners’ power and splendour as much as for defence.
Built over a century after many of Wales’s other most famous castles, Raglan Castle fell victim to one of the longest sieges of the Civil War before being destroyed. The Cadw app has the usual array of fun games to entertain kids, including Little Dragons and the Castle Quest, led by ‘Edward the Inventor’.
There are also some beautiful gardens to explore, as well as spiral staircases and crenellations, plus arrow slits to hold off any imaginary attacking armies, and fantastic views from the Great Tower, even if Raglan is more ruin than stronghold these days.
Pembroke Castle, Pembrokeshire
Once home to the Earls of Pembroke – and birthplace of Henry VII (before he ever seemed to be in line for the throne), Pembroke Castle is the largest privately owned castle in Wales.
It’s also got the distinction of being attacked by both Royalist and Roundhead forces during the Civil War as it changed sides, as well as being one of the best to explore if you’re visiting West Wales too.
Rebuilt in the late 12th/early 13th centuries, it’s the only castle in Britain to be built over a natural cavern (pop inside to check for dragons) – as well as its 80ft high keep, the castle’s rooms were circular, although today you can stare straight up to the domed roof.
There are also three portcullises to pass before you can enter inside, and a tower to climb. From a child-friendly point of view, you’ll also find the largest map of Wales in the outer bailey, showing more of the country’s historic sites and castles.
Chepstow Castle, Monmouthshire
When Chepstow Castle was built, its position on the cliffs above the River Wye was all about defence – today, it makes one of the most impressive settings for any castle in the UK.
Started in the late 11th century, it’s the oldest surviving stone fortification in Britain built after the Romans (and has the oldest castle doors in Europe – safe inside, there are replicas to pass through in the gatehouse).
It’s a great place for kids to see the evolution of castles too, as it was constructed over the next couple of centuries.
With four main courtyards, there’s plenty to discover if you’re visiting with kids, right from the cellar to the Great Hall and its fantastic views out, plus a wicker knight on his horse. As a bonus, Doctor Who fans will recognise it from filming the 50th anniversary episode.
Best of the rest: castles in Scotland with kids
Scone Castle, Perthshire
One of Scotland’s most important historic sites, the crowning place of kings, Scone Palace has some fantastic activities for younger visitors as well.
Inside, there’s an I Spy trail through the State Rooms (watch out for the stuffed Siberian tigers), as well as living history performances throughout the year.
Outdoors, a maze with a difference in the tartan Murray Star Maze, plus an adventure playground among the 100 acres of grounds to run wild in, from the Plant Hunters’ Pavilion to the Pinetum. There are also animals, including Shetland ponies and Highland coos.
For older kids, Scone Palace was home to the Stone of Scone – or the Stone of Destiny – for centuries before it was taken to Westminster by Edward I in 1296 (it’s now back in Scotland, but at Edinburgh Castle), and the site where Robert the Bruce, and kings up to Charles II were crowned.
And look out for the portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle (alongside Lady Elizabeth Murray), for a fascinating tale about the mixed race girl born into slavery, raised in an aristocratic household, who may have helped move Britain towards the abolition of slavery.
Urquhart Castle, Inverness
One of the biggest reasons to visit Urquhart Castle with kids is to see if you can spot Nessie from its walls. Overlooking Loch Ness, you can climb the Grant Tower to gaze down on the water as you explore.
The castle itself dates back 1,000 years, and while it’s now ruined (blown up by government troops which had been stationed here during the Jacobite Risings), you can still peek into a prison cell and imagine what life would have been like in the great hall when the MacDonald Lords of the Isles held power.
As well as the dramatic views, there are various medieval artefacts on display to bring the history to life, as well as a working trebuchet, plus a family quiz to follow along the way.
Glamis Castle, Angus
The setting for Macbeth, there are stories galore woven into the stone of Glamis Castle, with tour guides sharing tales of ghosts, royal visits and weirdly wonderful facts as you explore with kids.
Unlike many castles steeped in the mists of history, Glamis was the childhood home of the Queen Mother, and birthplace of Princess Margaret, so there are more modern-day royals alongside Mary, Queen of Scots and the Old Pretender to learn about.
The current castle was built in around 1400, although the history on the site goes back another few centuries, when King Malcolm II was murdered by Macbeth – and later inhabitants had equally dramatic lives: one Lady Glamis was executed for witchcraft.
There are some beautiful gardens and grounds to explore too, home to roe deer and otters, among other wildlife. You can also follow a nature trail along the riverside to try to spot some of them.
Dunnottar Castle, Aberdeenshire
Once owned by one of the most powerful families in Scotland, the ruins of Dunnottar castle helped to inspire the Disney film Brave (along with Eilean Donan). But the stones hide plenty of real-life fascinating tales of their own.
It was once the hiding place of the Honours of Scotland, as the Crown Jewels are known, kept safe from Oliver Cromwell’s attacking forces. A Scottish king was also killed here during a 9th century Viking attack, while it was later besieged by William Wallace and played host to Mary Queen of Scots.
There’s an app to help you explore, but this is the kind of castle that’s perfect for sparking kids’ imaginations. The walk out to the ruins means it’s not buggy-friendly, so better with school age kids (and go prepared with a picnic/suntan lotion/coat against the sea breeze!)
Crathes Castle, Aberdeenshire
There’s a great mix of history and chances to play at Crathes Castle – my daughter’s two top requirements if we’re visiting historic houses.
The 16th century castle has all the turrets, towers and castle ghosts that you could want (a green lady, supposedly).
And once you’ve finished eyeing up the painted ceilings indoors, there’s a historic walled garden and topiary yew trees, as well as six nature trails outdoors, where you can spot woodpeckers and buzzards, as well as roe deer – a legacy of its past as part of the Royal Forest of Drum.
There’s also the Wild Wood Adventure Play area, inspired by the castle and its history (you’ll find a Green Lady tower as well as climbing, zip wire and a see-through walkway), plus Go Ape for kids aged 10+.
Best of the rest: castles with kids in Northern Ireland
Dunluce Castle, Co Antrim
There have been people living on this spot for well over 1,000 years, although the picturesque ruins of Dunluce Castle that you can visit today were first built in around the 16th century.
Set right on the coast above the cliffs at Portrush, watch the presentation at the welcome centre first before heading across the drawbridge inside to the castle which is thought to have inspired Cair Paravel in the Narnia books.
There’s a guide too, to help bring the castle alive, although this is a perfect spot to spark kids’ imagination rather than trooping through rooms. There are turrets and rooms to explore too, one which might have its own ghost sweeping the floor.
After visiting, you can also head down a stairway to the Mermaid’s cave, a cavern in the cliffs – watch out for the woman in white, a ghost spotted in the 16th century. She hasn’t been seen since, but you never know…
As a bonus for adults, the castle appeared in Game of Thrones as the stronghold of Pyke on the Iron Islands.
Carrickfergus Castle, Co Antrim
Just 10 miles from Belfast, this Norman castle is one of the best preserved in Northern Ireland, and played a military role until 1928, with cannons still on display inside.
You have to prebook a guided tour to see inside Carrickfergus Castle, so it’s better for older kids, but there are information boards, videos and models of some of the key figures along the way which younger visitors will enjoy.
Keep an eye out for the murder hole as you go in, while one of the highlights is seeing the Great Hall at the top of the Great Tower, with its new roof, and the views from the walls.
There are often family events and craft activities during holidays as well.
UK castles with kids: more family days out
Ludlow Castle, Shropshire
The fortress dates back to the 11th century, and was one of the first stone castles to be built in England by the Normans.
Later home to the powerful Mortimer family, who ruled this borderland with Wales, it also housed Prince Arthur (elder brother to Henry VIII) and Catherine of Aragon.
Today, you can still see the intricate carving around the entrance to the unusual round chapel as well as the solid Norman tower (currently limited entry times and numbers) before spotting an unexpected dragon plus a huge wooden throne.
Goodrich Castle, Herefordshire
One of the many English fortresses built along the border with Wales, first to guard against the Welsh and later to enforce the Marcher Lords’ rule, Goodrich Castle is partly ruined but there’s still lots to discover, from historic toilets to a dungeon and chapel.
There’s a fun audio tour to follow and family activity trails, as well as objects on display (including a slightly gruesome dungeon). The castle is also home to Roaring Meg, the cannon which actually did most of the damage to the castle during the English Civil War, and fantastic views out to the River Wye and Wales.
Powderham Castle, Devon
Home to the Earl of Devon and his family, you can get a peek inside the castle itself, but a lot of the attractions here are outdoors – exploring the deer park, following trails through the grounds, meeting farm animals and playing in the fortress playground.
Find out more about a day at Powderham Castle with kids after a visit with my daughter
Lincoln Castle, Lincolnshire
Sitting across from Lincoln Cathedral, the castle’s history is fascinating – one of the few with a female castellan, the site of a battle which saved England from having a French king, it’s also home to one of four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, and one of only two copies of the 1217 Charter of the Forest.
A Victorian prison sits in the centre of the castle green and you can walk the whole way around the castle walls, after renovation work a few years back, looking out across the city and the rooftops.
There’s a free audioguide, with an option for children, to help bring it all to life too.
For more things to do in Lincoln with kids, check out our weekend in the city
Castle Rising, Norfolk
This 12th century castle is one of the largest and best preserved keeps in England, sitting in splendour on 20 acres of earthworks. You can still climb up to get a view of these defensive fortifications, as well as heading inside the ruined medieval castle.
Best known for being home to Queen Isabella, widow of Edward II, where she was imprisoned (in quite a lot of luxury, admittedly) by her son Edward III. You can visit the remains of her apartments, as well as the Great Hall and an early Norman church that pre-dates the castle itself.
Colchester Castle, Essex
This Norman castle was built on the ruins of the Roman Temple of Claudius, itself destroyed by Boudica and the Iceni when the tribe rebelled in 47AD.
Today it houses the fantastic city museum, tracing Colchester’s history from the Iron Age and Roman times through the castle’s Norman origins, on to medieval times when it became a prison, and the English Civil War, where Colchester was under siege for 11 weeks.
Some great interactive elements help virtually recreate castle life as you wander around the museum, so it’s like seeing two attractions in one.
For more things to do in Colchester with kids, check out my picks
PIN FOR LATER: THE BEST UK CASTLES WITH KIDS
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